SEOUL — When he watched the scenes of determined refugees attempting to flee Afghanistan through the American withdrawal ㅡ moms clutching infants, males begging to board airplanes in Kabul — Sohn Yang-young, 70, felt tears welling up in his eyes, his coronary heart aching as if he have been there.
His household had lived via a equally traumatic wartime expertise.
Mr. Sohn’s mother and father have been amongst 91,000 refugees that the American navy evacuated from Hungnam, a port on the jap coast of North Korea, in a frantic retreat from Chinese language Communist troops through the Korean Battle in 1950. They boarded the final ship leaving the port with refugees — the S.S. Meredith Victory, a United States service provider marine cargo freighter.
Mr. Sohn was one in every of 5 infants born on the ship.
“After I watched the chaotic scenes on the Afghan airport, I considered my mother and father and the identical life-or-death state of affairs they’d gone via in Hungnam,” Mr. Sohn stated in an interview. “I couldn’t battle again tears, particularly after I noticed these kids.”
In late December 1950, six months after the Korean Battle started, 100,000 American and South Korean troops have been pulling again via the bitter chilly and deep snow after the United Nations forces suffered a heavy loss on the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, also called Lake Jangjin. The one path to security within the south was by sea.
As was the case in Afghanistan this 12 months, information of the American withdrawal triggered a big exodus. By the point the American troops reached Hungnam, throngs of individuals had already arrived on the port, hoping to flee the violence as Chinese language troops, combating alongside the North’s forces, closed in.
The Individuals determined to rescue as many refugees as attainable, jettisoning weapons and different cargo to make room on the 190 ships dispatched to evacuate the troopers. The operation grew to become often known as “the Miracle of Christmas,” and by some estimates, it was the one largest wartime evacuation of civilian refugees in American historical past till Afghanistan.
Older South Koreans invariably cite the evacuation once they speak about their nation’s alliance with america, solid through the battle. When South Korea airlifted 391 Afghans final month — individuals who labored for South Korean troops stationed in Afghanistan and their relations — its determination was compelled partly by what the American navy did in Hungnam.
“The Individuals have been our savior,” stated Lee Kweng-pil, one other child born aboard the Meredith Victory. “With out them, my mother and father wouldn’t have survived the battle and I might not be right here.”
Mr. Sohn, Mr. Lee and different kids of the Hungnam refugees, together with President Moon Jae-in, grew up listening to their mother and father recount how terrified they have been of being left behind below Communist rule, and the way panicked they have been to get on the American ships. Mass extrajudicial executions of civilians accused of collaborating with the enemy have been rampant through the battle.
When the Individuals retreated, worry unfold via Hungnam. Its streets and harbor have been flooded with individuals shouting for misplaced relations, infants screaming and navy law enforcement officials blowing whistles to manage the crowds, based on testimonies by a few of those that escaped. Fireplace and smoke rose as troopers burned vehicles and different matériel they might not take with them.
“Shells flew overhead because the Allied ships fired to discourage the Communist advance whereas the Communists fired again to sink the American ships,” stated Han Geum-suk, a nurse in Hamhung who joined the evacuation. “We rushed via the cross-fire backwards and forwards a number of instances earlier than we might catch a ship. The bottom was strewn with individuals with their luggages who have been killed. There was hardly any standing room on the ship.”
Few occasions of the Korean Battle have seared the psyche of older South Koreans as deeply because the Hungnam evacuation, which they noticed as a logo of wartime calamity and humanitarian grace. It’s memorialized in South Korean textbooks, in addition to in one of many nation’s most beloved pop songs. “Ode to My Father,” a 2014 film based mostly partly on the evacuation, grew to become one of many highest-grossing movies in the historical past of South Korean cinema.
Mr. Moon’s mother and father have been among the many refugees who caught the Meredith Victory. The ship, designed to hold not more than 59 individuals, left Hungnam on Dec. 23, 1950, with 14,000 refugees. Crusing with no escort, it arrived at Geoje Island, off the south coast of South Korea, on Christmas Day. Mr. Moon, who was born in a refugee camp on Geoje in 1953, stated his mom used to inform him in regards to the candies handed out to refugees who have been jam-packed into the cargo hull on Christmas Eve.
He has known as the Meredith Victory’s voyage “one of many best humanitarian operations in human historical past.”
“I’m deeply moved by the humanity the American navy demonstrated when it evacuated not simply its personal troops, however refugees as effectively throughout such a determined state of affairs,” Mr. Moon stated when he visited america in 2017.
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The Meredith Victory’s captain, Leonard LaRue, made the choice to desert weapons and cargo to hold as many refugees as he might in what has been known as “the biggest evacuation from land by a single ship.” The captain grew to become a Benedictine monk in New Jersey after the battle and died in 2001. The U.S. bishops’ convention has not too long ago expressed help for his canonization.
Because the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Moon’s authorities has despatched tens of millions of face masks as a token of gratitude to Korean Battle veterans around the globe, together with three surviving crew members of the Meredith Victory: Robert Lunney, Burley Smith and Merl Smith.
Mr. Sohn, one of many infants born on the ship, met with Mr. Lunney a number of years in the past when the American was invited to South Korea. Collectively they confirmed that Mr. Sohn was “Kimchi One.” In accordance with Mr. Lunney, the ship’s American crew nicknamed the 5 infants born on board “Kimchi” as a result of, apparently, it was the Korean phrase most acquainted to them, Mr. Sohn stated.
Mr. Lee was “Kimchi 5.”
Each Mr. Lee and Mr. Sohn stated that once they noticed the information of a younger Afghan soccer participant falling off an American airplane and of infants being born throughout airlifts from Kabul, they relived the ache of war-torn Korean households.
Earlier than becoming a member of the mad rush onto the Meredith Victory, Mr. Sohn’s father and mom entrusted their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to his brother, who stayed behind. His mother and father believed the household could be reunited when the tide of the battle turned in favor of america.
As an alternative, the battle was halted in a cease-fire and the Korean Peninsula stays divided. Mr. Sohn’s mother and father died with out seeing their two kids within the North once more.
1000’s of refugees have been stranded in Hungnam after the final ship departed. The American navy bombarded the harbor to destroy its tools and provides in order that the Communists couldn’t use them. Mr. Lee, 70, stated he has heard from North Korean defectors who say that many refugees left behind on the port died through the bombing, and that others have been despatched to jail camps.
After resettling in South Korea, Mr. Lee’s father ran a photograph studio and his mom a grocery retailer. Mr. Lee grew to become a veterinarian. All of them named their outlets “Peace,” he stated. “My father didn’t need one other battle in Korea.”